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Medical Schools Growing to Meet Demand

Feb 15, 2010

It may no longer be so difficult to get into medical school in the U.S. - almost two dozen new med schools have just opened or are expected to open soon in response to growing demand for medical training.

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New Medical Schools Will Benefit Prospective Students and Disadvantaged Communities

Want to be a doctor? Good luck - in the last decade, even being at the top of your class may not have been enough. The competition for getting into medical school in the U.S. is so fierce that tons of American students are being driven to foreign schools to get medical training. At the same time, many American hospitals are hiring foreign physicians to fill residencies because U.S. schools aren't producing enough graduates. However, this may be changing. In response to steadily increasing demand from prospective students, significant numbers of new medical schools are opening, something which hasn't happened in decades.

To date, there are only 131 medical schools in the U.S. To put that into perspective, there are 200 law schools currently approved by the American Bar Association. The Liaison Committee on Medical Education, an accrediting group for medical schools, reports that six new schools have received preliminary accreditation, which means they can start recruiting students. Six more have started the application process and 11 schools have announced their intention to apply for accreditation. If all of these schools open, that will be an 18% increase over the current number of American medical schools.

This much growth hasn't happened in decades. In the 1980s and 90s, the medical community predicted an excess of doctors by the 21st century. As a result, various organizations took steps to slow this growth, so enrollment in medical schools has remained steady ever since. However, those predictions were false, and according to the Association of American Medical Colleges (AAMC), there's evidence that we'll actually have a physician shortage in the next several years.

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A number of factors are contributing to the potential doctor shortage, including an expected increase in the demand for healthcare as more people become insured and the impending retirement of a large crop of doctors who aren't being replaced fast enough. In 2006, the AAMC formed the Center for Workforce Studies in order to study the composition of the physician workforce and make recommendations for preventing a shortfall. The Center recommended a 30% increase in the number of medical students in 2002 by 2015, to be accomplished by increasing enrollment at existing schools and opening new schools.

The AAMC also recommended that the federal government lift the cap on the number of residency slots it funds, a cap imposed by the 1997 Balanced Budget Act. All physicians are required to complete several years of post-graduate clinical residency, also known as graduate medical education, before they can practice independently. If the number of residency slots doesn't increase along with medical school enrollment, hospitals will be unable to train medical students as fast as they can graduate and the doctor shortage will remain.

However, some skeptics argue that increasing the number of doctors won't solve the problem of 'geographic mal-distribution.' Young physicians tend to flock to wealthy urban areas where doctors aren't in short supply. In response, many of the new medical schools are focusing specifically on underserved communities, such as poor, immigrant and Native American populations. Schools including the University of California Riverside School of Medicine are opening in areas like Riverside County, which has an estimated deficit of 3,000 physicians.

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The sudden proliferation of medical schools is, of course, great news for prospective medical students- and not just college kids. Some of the new schools are encouraging individuals who already have experience in healthcare to advance their careers in a way they may not have been able to do before.

If you're interested in learning more about becoming a physician, check out Study.com's resources on the medical and health professions.

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